Next Wave Festival, 2012, May 19 - 27, Melbourne, Australia
Text by Harun Morrison
498. ‘Spend your entire paycheck on fireworks.’ 225. ‘Think of here as over there.’ 336. ‘Make a cat blink at you with one eye’.
These suggestions, provocations and instructions, ranging from the pragmatic to the absurd, are only three of ‘500 methods for a new beginning’ sourced from a wealth of young thinkers across the planet. This inventory formed the starting point for Wake Up and See the Sun Rise, the keynote project for Next Wave - a biennial festival of contemporary art and performance for emerging Australian artists.
Weaving and winding across Melbourne since 1984, the festival is long established and cherished by the local and national arts community (many of whom are past contributants). This edition, steered by new artistic director Emily Sexton, avows polyphony, plurality, collaboration and is unashamedly Utopic in tone. Rejecting poses of cynicism while having no truck with naivety, optimism is claimed as a catalyzing and politically transformative force in the festival’s literature and organisation-initiated discourse. A discourse infused with the kind of self-enquiry echoed by the more sensitive festivals and biennials across the globe: itching with concerns about the homogenization of contemporary arts practice, gentrification, negotiating the differences between championing locality and being instrumentalised as ‘identity/place-makers’ (as developers might put it).
311. ‘Merge with a multinational corporation.’
The Next Wave programmers addressed these concerns not only through selected works, but the festival’s apparatus: notably the festival magazine and website, ‘day-passes’, the festival hub at West Space and a convivial, new discursive forum: Breakfast Club.
Breakfast Club, convened daily at The Wheeler Centre; combining a subsidized communal breakfast with discussion on a series of topical questions. These ranged from ‘Can Art be both beautiful and effective’’ to ‘intimacy and our obsession with eating’. Various guest provocateurs including international festival directors, Next Wave artists and Melbourne and Sydney based speakers took turns to comment on these propositions concluding with a question as conversation-starter for those guzzling coffee at tables. Fertile, lively exchanges, were engineered between strangers; the bubbly energy of public debate infusing subsequent personal chats, colouring and informing the work seen later that afternoon, evening or week. This momentum was maintained for those on ‘Day Passes’; festival curated ‘journeys’ through a selection of work on show that day. You became part of a micro-party who experienced works, in a particular order, forming shared points of reference in the process, in turn generating a kind of hyper-social bonding, catalyzing the ephemeral (and sometimes lasting!) connections that occur in festivals and parties in the right ‘I-can-speak-to-anyone-here’ atmosphere, cultivating future smiles and welcomes.
This care was complimented by the festival’s publications. Eschewing the typical glossy brochure for something more multi-voiced, zine-like and scrap-booky, Next Wave Magazine’s tone is typified by a beautiful opening essay, Does the Cosmos Care, by astrophysicist Bryan Gaensler. The wild ambition of the text, deftly speculating upon the emergence of the universe(s’), enraptured by its own curiousity, mirrors the ‘voice(s)’ of Next Wave itself. The majority of the zine’s 86 pages are the contributions from the festival artists, given further space to expand on their work in playfully tangential ways.
Away from the page let us not forget the parties; the Bacchanalian life force of festivals aware of their origins in feasting and carnival; here they were rich in content and fun in execution. Fresh Produce, the closing party, took place in a market arcade and was peppered with stalls of local produce alongside spontaneous performance interventions. Earlier in the week were high times in West Space, one of Melbourne’s most dynamic artist-lead spaces, temporary festival hub and home to Wake Up and See The Sun Rise.
Nightly parties here featured a series of guest DJs activating an installation, a micro-club (complete with wind machine to fan plastic flames) by Hossein Ghaemi & Claire Finneran; exemplifying the cross-pollination that was sought by inviting various collective practices and duos to co-occupy this space. Alongside Ghaemi & Finneran were Applespiel, Tully Arnot & Charles Dennington, LuckyPDF and Tape Projects.
430. ‘Listen to traffic imagining it’s the ocean.’
377. Cook a sausage in your landlord’s exhaust pipe.
I’m sipping an unusually flavoured beer labelled ‘Meta Tonic’, on the roof garden of Dear Patti Smith, an artist-lead space in fashionable Fitzroy. There’s work by Monte Massi and Creo Nova (duo Benjamin Kolaitis and Alex Cuffe). The latter are responsible for a plant encaged by a geometric bamboo structure, fitted with various wires and speakers, crocodile clips grip the leaves of a succulent plant, if you move the clips and press your fingers on the leaves a range of sounds emerge, the plant has been adapted, becoming an interactive instrument affected by your own electro-magnetism, emitting sound when pressure was put on the leaves. Eerily lit, alien and enigmatic, evocative of sci-fi films such as Silent Running, the DIY aesthetic, allusions to unarticulated ecological concerns and an unidentifiable mysticism overlay to compelling effect. This playful inscrutability goes down well with the beer I’m swigging, also the produce of Creo Nova. ‘Meta Tonic’ was made with help from a local microbrewery, the drink has been flavoured with a concoction of various organic herbal and fruity stimulants, including coffee and orange rind. My third Creo Nova experience was earlier in the week, Our Magic Hour, a steamboat cruise embarking from Marrablong River, eventually reaching the docklands. It was soundscaped by a combination of the live mixing on board the boat, sounds relayed from speakers near the engine and various tubes that became odd sirens when manually whirled by the artists as they walked back and forth along the deck creating an abstract gargle of tones. Effective because of its openness, Creo Nova’s offering of light touch, more ‘in-and-out ‘modes of experiencing work, undemanding of, or needing, compulsive and singular attention, allowed a meshing with the city’s environment itself. This emphasis on shifting and multiple positions and perspectives was exemplified by another river orientated work, Dan Koop’s A boat, a ship, the bridge, the shore. Experiencing Melbourne from the Yarra River, places you at one of its physically lowest points, slicing through it while it looms over you, all the while opening itself up with images unlikely to be featured on postcards: the shipping containers peppered with logos from all of the world, glimpses through the windows of super-expensive and exclusive river side flats, the kids filming a music video framing the shot to pretend a yacht in the background belongs to their rapper.
381. Have a show in you house.
In a Breakfast Club session, artist Laura Delaney noted the volume and traffic of sea trade in the 21st century is often underestimated, sometimes assumed to be the delivery method of a past age; Hull, a multi-faceted project by Delaney and Danae Valenza, illuminated the currency of this transport system. The Mission to Seafarers, a lively bustling support centre for sailors across the world, was the inspiration and focal point of the duo’s research. A series of installations and publications were developed which brought attention to the overlooked space while not disrupting its day-to-day usage; allowing the touristic festival audience to temporarily co-occupy a space functioning to allow recuperation and reflection. A stand-out installation featured melting spheres of ice dripping on to cymbals placed in oil drums which resonated in the cavernous space; another included a loop of archival film screened in an under-the-floorboards storage space, which gave the sense of being beneath the deck. The idiosyncratic architecture of The Mission to Seafarers, reminiscent of a renaissance monastery, was given ample space to become an element of Hull in its own right. This immersion in the archival and field of history was equally manifest in the audio tour, Goodbye, Csirac by Zoe Meagher. CSIRAC (1949), is one of a handful of first generation computers, was built in Australia and now resides in Melbourne Museum, the site for the tour. The controlled mellow tone of the voice running through the headphones evokes a legion of sci-fi passive-aggressive androids and computers perfectly suiting the text which is set (and therefore so are we) in a retro future looking nostalgically back to our current time and beyond. Parodying the traditionally pedagogical tone of the museum audio guide we sauntered through millennia: glancing by pterodactyls, interactive panels charting the evolution of the earth’s tectonic plates, animatronic dinosaurs, tropical greenhouses and early trams, this became intensely anachronistic experience; in moments reminiscent of the closing scene of Kubrick’s 2001
Bingo Unit by the artist group Team Mess, offer a different reality for us to toy with. Kicking off with a film of the slick but comedic opening credits for their fictional TV cop drama. . .their participatory installation parodies the generic tropes of this kind of show; the late-night wisecracking and bickering between officers, the forensic rigmarole on discovering the body, the interrogation scene, the revelations at the funeral, the nail biting court room climax… most of which involves us, the audience. Encouraged to roam around a series of ‘stations’, we are in an expanded film set, or a tourist-trap Warner Brothers back-lot tour. Monitors show pre-recorded scenes. Each scene has been filmed numerous times with different volunteer local cast members, which are then played on loop’ Much of the charm lies in the spotting of various local ‘faces’ that have been roped in. Elsewhere we can directly interact; kicking down a locked door while holding a gun and aiming it dramatically at a suspect, being invited to take part in an identity parade, interrogating one of the company in a claustrophobic room with a Perspex panel (through which the spectating audience could peer). The surprise cameo of a TV celebrity as judge for the obligatory courtroom finale was the culmination of an engrossing, immersive promenade work. . . Oh, did I mention the donuts and coffee’ It was a witty touch that made me feel like a real TV cop.
98. ‘Communicate without words for a day.’
Bone Library by Sarah Jane Norman is a vast and open-ended project. She has set out to engrave a complete dictionary of Indigenous Australian languages classified as “extinct”, on to the prepared bones of sheep and beef cattle. The City State Library was a judicious setting for the work. Winding through shelves of English language novels, made the transition to a stark room, walled ceiling-to-floor with broad strips of translucent plastic all the more compelling. A forensic lab, quarantined space, archeological dig or even abattoir was evoked. This was heightened by the distinctive smell of burning bone as it was scored with words. In a Breakfast Club discussion Sarah Jane Norman explained the project’s site-sensitivity and her personal investment in the preservation of Aboriginal languages, pointing out that Melbourne itself was Wurundjeri Land and this would therefore partly determine the words of which languages groups were inscribed while she was here. In foregrounding her own Aboriginal heritage, we are able to appreciate how she conflates her personal narrative with more institutional modes, procedures and aesthetics; the labeled cards, the grid as spatial arrangement, the museological and serial and categorical display of content. . . and in doing so avoids the self-erasure often implicit in self-institutionalizing gestures. Significantly, on the final day of this stage of the project attendees were invited to take temporary guardianship of a bone, till such a moment they are recalled. There are intriguing overlaps with Susan Hiller’s film exploring similar territory, The Last Silent Movie The Last Silent Movie, 2008, in which various extinct and endangered languages are recited to a black screen with white subtitles. However, the liveness of Bone Library as an installation, the active, participatory, custodial role an attendee is invited to engage with, directly implores us to perceive all languages as part of a share global heritage that we are collectively responsible for.
The slipperiness of documentation and the authorship so often latent in any act of recording is a central concern of Monte Masi; an artist who’s symbiotic practice ‘deploys humour and self-parody to point towards issues regarding the production, dissemination and perception of contemporary art’(Masi’s website). In Next Wave, his performance work Give Us A Look took the form of documentation of his dialogue with other Next Wave artists about their work. As the festival progressed videos of the previous days’ interactions were edited and presented in Dear Patti Smith, the project space shared with Creo Nova. The apparent self-effacing logic of this work is knowingly and wittily undermined by Masi’s presence in the films themselves, like a celebrity commentator, his ubiquity both in the videos and at the festival shows itself, allowed him to be ‘camouflaged’ through the very fact he was such a fixture.
While the prominent generousity of his project knowingly calls into question the motives of any charitable act, he fully embraced the functional aspect of his self-set task, generating a platform for artists to talk unselfconsciously about their work and his own archive in the process.
Without disrupting the Next Wave’s mechanisms, Give Us A Look, interrogates how and when artists are given voices, beyond the presence of their work, in such festivals and biennials. This commission strikes me as self-interrogatory gesture on the part of the festival, willingly opening themselves up to critique. While Massi fulfils Nam June Paik’s suggestion ‘an artist should always bite the hand that feeds him - but not too hard.’
470. Howl to the full moon holding some rose quartz.
The questioning of theatre’s structures, conventions and the audience itself was brazenly insisted upon by Atlanta Eke in her divisive, dance-theatre work Monster Body. From the offset, tension and intrigue were raised, we entered the auditorium as her naked figure in a party reptile mask hoola-hoops on and on. Extreme yelps and guttural noises followed, morphing into half-formed-words, as she crawled on all fours, pop music blasted, she parodied commercial model poses, undermining them with on stage urination, by the end of this visceral cascade of images, she had chewed, spat or pissed out mangled tropes of many a music video or ‘lads’ mag. In doing so she evoked a legion and legacy of solo female live artists as far raging as Grace Surman and Ann Liv Young
19. Make things from scratch - put it all together from the very start with your own hands, no shortcuts.
Next Wave is supporting of emerging curators and hosted several exhibitions put together by various, often-collaborative duos. They included Bellowing Echoes curated by Marcel Cooper and Bronwyn Bailey-Charteris at the highly regarded non-for-profit gallery Gertude Contemporary. Taking inspiration from the utopic aspirations of ill-fated George Arden, this group show elegantly drew together a series of works that collectively traced various impacts of globalization, notably the regurgitation of images in unexpected contexts and the politics of looking itself especially through the lens of anthropology and ethnography. (Featured artists were Jess Johnson, Anna Kristensen, Tessa Zettel and Karl Khoe, The Slow Art Collective, and Marcin Wojcik.) Like Goodbye CSIRAC, Bone Library and Hull, neglected or peripheral histories have been temporarily shifted and repositioned as a focal narrative.
35. Pre-empt everything with the roar of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lion.